"Milestone"

"milestone"

 

Miles Davis (tr)
John Coltrane (ts)
Julian "Cannonball" Adderley (as)
Red Garland (p)
Paul Chambers (b)
Philly Joe Jones (d)

Songs:
1. Dr. Jackel (Jackie Mc Lean)
2. Sid's Ahead (Miles Davis)
3. Two Bass Hit (J.Lewis & D.Gillespie)
4. Milestone (Miles Davis)
5. Billy Boy (Trad)
6. Straight, No Chaser (Thelonious Monk)

 

A good way to describe the Miles Davis Sextet might be to begin with the rhythm section. Only a very few compare with it, either in solid swinging jazz or in that sort of suspended, subtly stated swing in which cross-rhythms and sparsely emphasized beats prevail. The latter quality dominates a great deal of Jackie McClean's "Dr. Jekyll"; this is played fast, in a clipped accent, in a tonal approach and tempo that, like fat green olives, will grow on you. Another example of the clipped accent sometimes called "cool" is "Two Bass Hit," a John Lewis composition. And there is a solid swing in the strong dance tempo of "Miles" in which one is struck by the extraordinary effects achieved by "Philly" Joe Jones--effects that could only be realized with deliberate control, yet that never sound studied.

Paul Chambers was named Paul Laurence Dunbar Chambers, Jr., presumably in honor of both his father and the well-known nineteenth-century poet. This seems not inappropriate, particularly as one listens to the "deep song" of his bowed bass on "Dr. Jekyll." A rare beauty of tone is combined, in his playing, with an extraordinary technical gift and, underlying it, such a strong sense of swing that he could carry the rhythm all by himself, if that were necessary. It isn't, of course--in this group no single man has to carry the burden, though each is more than capable. In fact, the coordination of rhythm instruments is constantly exciting, as on "Sid's Ahead" where, after some choicely plucked bass by Paul, there is a thrilling exercise in rhythmic tension, with a relaxed feel to it. On "Billy Boy," Paul plays as amusing a bowed bass as has been heard since Slam Stewart flat-foot-floogied up the bestseller charts-that was all of a couple of decades ago, just about the time that P.L.D.C., Jr. left the high-chair under his own steam.

Oran "Hot Lips" Page, who, with his brother Walter, sparked the historically memorable "Blue Devils"--possibly inspiring the name for the group Miles joined in East St. Louis a decade later--is credited with having "discovered" William "Red" Garland while playing in Dallas, where both men were born. There are many good examples of his piano in this set, beginning with "Dr. Jekyll," and excellent supporting piano throughout. There is full-bodied, two-fisted, strongly chorded solo work on "Straight, No Chaser" and on "Billy Boy"--a roisterous rhythmic romp--while the right hand supplies substantially a full solo on its own, the left provides a Greek chorus of chords.

Of the two saxophones, tenor-man John Coltrane, born in North Carolina the same year as Miles was born in Illinois, once played alto. Altoist Adderley, although an admirer of Charlie Parker, was first influenced by tenor players, including Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. Both men have such range on their instruments that at times one has to listen closely to know who's playing what. On "Dr Jekyll," the breathless Julian is an ancient mariner on fast alto, and on "Sid's Ahead," John's tenor breathes petals like plumes. Both contribute admirably to the superb job on "Miles"--Coltrane in that surging style of his, with great definition. And on "Two Bass Hit," the sense of the break is in Cannonball's attack as he expounds the "guts and legato" style to which he has made a few noteworthy additions. (As for the latter, observe how he handles clusters of notes on "Straight, No Chaser.")

Like Hackett and Baker, whom Miles' teacher heard on the Mississippi boats, Miles has developed an unusual beauty of tone that gives warmth even to his most restrained, understated choruses. His playing has never lacked emotion, but the emotion has usually been contained--he doesn't slap emotions at the listener--and, like J. J. Johnson, he is a "complete chorus" improvisor and is unusually objective in his playing. On open or muted horn his style has gradually gained in strength and outward vigor. Indeed, listening to the muted chorus on "Miles," the word cool no longer seems appropriate to it, if it ever was. The melody emerges with sureness, with clarity, or yet like sound coming softly through lustred velvet or pouring richly through shot silk.

"Sid's Ahead" is Miles' opus to an old operator (not in years but experience). In it, opening on a repeated note fed him by saxophone, he displays the lovely tone of his open horn in an incantation to the midnight sounds of New York disc jockey Symphony Sid (Sid Torin).

On "Dr. Jekyll" and "Two Bass Hit" there is some riding ensemble and strong terse horn above the rhythm.

"Miles," the other Miles Davis original in this set, will be enjoyed in its entirety, as will other of the arrangements, but it will also stand out because it includes one of the most beautiful jobs on muted horn since Leon "Bix" Beiderbecke, with a cornet and a piece of old felt, shook up the whole Whiteman band on Sweet Sue (CL846). Miles has an ear for a pop tune ("Billy Boy") and for dance rhythm to rich chords ("Straight, No Chaser"). The former is unabashed fun, from the solo passages of Red's authentic Red Garland style piano to the point where "Philly" Joe Jones, with exuberant blockbusters and sundry side arms, completes the composition. "Straight, No Chaser" is one of those Thelonious Monk melodies in the playing of which the listener is aware of the harmonies solidly behind each instrumental voice. Miles' solo statement--in the singing tonality of his open horn--has a rare nobility.

-Charles Edward Smith

 

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